Air Crash Investigations, also known as Mayday or Air Disasters, is hands-down the best documentary series about air crashes, near-crashes and other air travel related disasters.
To give you a taste of what to expect in this adrenaline inducing series, just take a look at the different episodes, each dedicated to a different event, from Season 1:
Unlocking Disaster – United 811
Flight 811 took off from Honolulu International Airport bound for Auckland, New Zealand with 3 flight crew, 15 flight attendants, and 337 passengers at approximately 01:52 HST. Its flight crew consisted of Captain David Cronin, First Officer Al Slater and Flight Engineer Mark Thomas.
During the climb, the crew made preparations to detour around thunderstorms along the aircraft’s track; anticipating turbulence, the captain kept the seat-belt sign lit. Around this time (02:08) the plane had been flying for approximately 16 minutes and was passing between 22,000 and 23,000 feet (6,700–7,000 m). In the business-class section, a grinding noise was heard, followed by a loud thud which rattled the whole aircraft…
Racing the Storm – American 1420
American Airlines Flight 1420 was a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Little Rock National Airport in USA. On June 1, 1999, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 (registration number N215AA) overran the runway upon landing in Little Rock and crashed. The captain and ten passengers died in the crash.
Fire On Board- Swiss Air 111
Swissair Flight 111 (SR-111, SWR-111) was a Swissair McDonnell Douglas MD-11 on a scheduled airline flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, United States to Cointrin International Airport in Geneva, Switzerland. This flight was also a codeshare flight with Delta Air Lines.
On 2 September 1998 the aircraft used for the flight, registered HB-IWF, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Halifax International Airport at the entrance to St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia. The crash site was 8 kilometres (5 mi) from shore, roughly equidistant from the tiny fishing and tourist communities of Peggys Cove and Bayswater. All 229 people on board died. It was the highest-ever death toll of any aviation accident involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-11.
Cutting Corners- Alaska Airlnes 261
Alaska Airlines Flight 261, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft, experienced a fatal accident on January 31, 2000 in the Pacific Ocean about 2.7 miles (4.3 km) north of Anacapa Island, California. The two pilots, three cabin crewmembers, and 83 passengers on board were killed and the aircraft was destroyed. It was the highest ever death toll of any aviation accident involving a McDonnell Douglas MD-83.
Alaska 261 was a scheduled international passenger flight from Lic. Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington, with an intermediate stop planned at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California.
Flying Blind – Aeroperú Flight 603
On October 2, 1996, shortly after takeoff just past midnight, the Boeing 757 airliner crew discovered that their basic flight instruments were behaving erratically and reported receiving contradictory serial emergency messages from the onboard computer, such as rudder ratio, mach speed trim, overspeed, underspeed and flying too low. The crew declared an emergency and requested an immediate return to the airport.
Faced with the lack of reliable basic flight instruments, constantly receiving contradictory warnings from the aircraft’s flight computer (some of which were valid and some of which were not), and continuously believing that they were at a safe altitude, pilot Eric Schreiber and copilot David Fernández decided to cautiously begin the descent for the approach to the airport. Since the flight was at night over water, no visual references could be made to convey to the pilots their true altitude or aid the pilots in the descent. Also, as a consequence of the pilot’s inability to precisely monitor the aircraft’s airspeed or vertical speed they experienced multiple stalls resulting in rapid loss of altitude with no corresponding change on the altimeter. While the altimeter indicated an altitude of approximately 9,700 feet, the aircraft’s true altitude was in fact much lower.
Flying on Empty – Air Transat Flight 236
Air Transat Flight 236 was an Air Transat route between Toronto, Canada and Lisbon, Portugal flown by Captain Robert Piché and First Officer Dirk De Jager. On August 24, 2001, the flight ran out of fuel over the Atlantic Ocean with 306 people (293 passengers and 13 crew) aboard.
This documentary is not available for viewing online but you can purchase Air Crash Investigations, Season 1, at Amazon.